According to a panel of leading experts, the UK and EU are missing a wealth of opportunities from the fastest growing economies in the world because of barriers to trade with the Commonwealth.
The Royal Commonwealth Society arranged this debate, sponsored by the European Commission, to facilitate constructive dialogue on the future of the EU, the UK’s role within it and the potential for trade with the Commonwealth. Lord Howell, President of the Royal Commonwealth Society urged delegates that they need to “realise the potential of the Commonwealth’s emerging markets.”
Echoing the thoughts of Lord Howell, Michael Sippitt, Chairman of the Commonwealth Environmental Investment Platform, declared “the network of young, dynamic populations in the Commonwealth offers many opportunities. Overlooking the opportunities that are emerging from the fastest growing economies would be highly detrimental. The UK is ideally placed to utilise its central role linking Commonwealth and European markets as a very big part of the global economy.”
However, H.E. Garvin Nicholas, High Commissioner for Trinidad and Tobago in the UK, warned of the difficulties he has experienced in overseas trade with the EU: “the state of trade between the Caribbean and the EU leaves a lot to be desired and the UK must now step up to take a more active role in this relationship.”
Mr Sippitt explained that the challenges faced by the UK are caused by trade restrictions, preventing the UK and EU from accessing wider market opportunities: “There are barriers to co-operation and they need to be removed. Some barriers have been overcome by countries entering into Free Trade Agreements or Preferential Trade Agreements. However, if there was ever to be a Commonwealth Free Trade Agreement, the UK would not be able to negotiate its individual membership of it. We have surrendered that power to the EU who negotiates FTAs on behalf of its member states.”
In conclusion, Mike Lake, Director of the Royal Commonwealth Society, summarised “It is not Europe or the Commonwealth, one or the other, but this notion that there is an opportunity and mutual interest in establishing a more dynamic and practical relationship between Europe and the countries of the Commonwealth, with the UK sitting in a pivotal role between them.”